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Football needs more 'robust' evidence linking heading and dementia

There is still insufficient evidence of a direct link between repeated heading and dementia to enforce training restrictions, claims FIFPro’s chief medical officer

  • Football still needs more ‘robust’ evidence linking heading and dementia 
  • Sportsmail are calling on teams to limit headers to a maximum of 20 in training 
  • New research suggests 20 headers with ball are enough to impact brain function

Football needs more ‘robust’ evidence linking heading and dementia before elite clubs can impose training restrictions, the medical chief of the world players’ union has claimed.

As part of Sportsmail’s campaign to tackle football’s dementia crisis, we are calling on teams to limit headers to a maximum of 20 in training, with a minimum of 48 hours between each session.

New research suggests 20 headers with a modern ball are enough to immediately — and significantly — impact brain function.

Football needs more ‘robust’ evidence linking heading and dementia before elite clubs can impose training restrictions, the medical chief of the world players’ union has claimed

Yet Dr Vincent Gouttebarge, the chief medical officer at FIFPro, insists there is still insufficient evidence of a direct link between repeated heading and dementia to enforce restrictions.

‘As long as we do not have the scientific evidence to change things in a legitimate way then there is no reason to change,’ he said. ‘We need to have more robust evidence in order to make a decision.

‘I know in the UK you have referred to the very good study from Professor Willie Stewart, but I looked at the study again and I didn’t see the words ‘heading’ or ‘concussion’ mentioned once.’

 New research suggests 20 headers with a modern ball are enough to immediately — and significantly — impact brain function

He added: ‘I don’t think we have the scientific evidence with this study that there is a causal relationship between heading the ball, concussion and dementia.’

Stewart, whose landmark study found former players were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of dementia and other neurological diseases responded to Gouttebarge’s comments, telling Sportsmail that data from across sports such as football, American football and rugby ‘all triangulate on only one identified risk factor, so far: head impacts and injuries’.

He said: ‘Given we now know the scale of the problem in football, the question sport should be addressing is not: ‘Prove to me exactly what the problem is before we change’ but, ‘on basis of available evidence we will change and pursue proof after acting to reduce potential risk’.’

This comes as a startling new study, carried out at Liverpool Hope University, found most players fail a pitchside concussion test after just 20 headers of a modern football.

FIFPro, meanwhile, are involved in a 10-year study which will track players from the latter part of their career into the first years of retirement, looking for neurocognitive, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal changes.




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